Facebook, skype, and twitter – just some of the services available for instant contact at the fingertips of most Europeans. But many emergency services, who need access to a broad range of internet-based communications services the most, are still using old-fashioned, telecommunications technology. This is the gap the EMYNOS project sought to plug.
EMYNOS’s framework enables users to use text, audio and video and make emergency calls across heterogeneous devices such as PCs, TV sets, mobile devices, AAC and haptic devices. Dr. Yacine Rebahi, lead researcher, explains, “Some of the present limitations are the partial media support and the lack of integration of social media. Currently only voice calls and sometimes SMS are accepted. There are no advanced features like accurate caller location, for example. The use of an analogue modem provides eCall services with limited data. These are just some of the disadvantages that we have addressed.”
EMYNOS has developed a platform that enables people to make emergency calls using not only ‘their voice’ but also using rich multimedia. This means someone could make a video call, or send a text message, to an emergency call centre and receive an instant reply.
The project also considered a variety of other functions, such as emergency call identification, caller location configuration, routing/redirection to the most appropriate or closest-available emergency call center, location information visualisation, sensor data transmission, and protection against false calls.
Real time text – an immediate response
One tool the project focussed on was real time text (RTT) communication, where the message is displayed to the recipient, character by character. “Normally,” explains Dr Rebahi, “you write a message and then send it. However, in an emergency situation, where no time should be wasted, it would be better if the call centre could see every character you write, at that exact moment of writing, instead of waiting for the whole text to be sent.” RTT also provides a means for communication where oral dialog is not possible or sufficient, for example if the caller is a person with hearing or speech disabilities.
A clear identification of location
EMYNOS also points out that, along with the speed of the transmission of the message, the location of the caller is, of course, also vital. If a smart phone is being used outside, your location will be transmitted through GPS. Inside a building, the system can break down, so EMYNOS worked on a WiFi based solution to track callers when GPS signals no longer work.
Wide range of the population can benefit
Broadening the means through which a person can get in contact with emergency services quickly can also help Europe’s rising aging population. “Elderly people, or people with chronic diseases, could especially benefit from Next Generation emergency systems. Let’s assume that some of them are using devices monitoring their health. It that’s the case, the health sensors could provide the status of the elderly to the emergency services,” says Dr Rebahi.
He cites the example of an elderly person living independently at home whose health is being monitored by sensors. If they fall, then an automated emergency call to the nearest centre would be initiated. The emergency services would be able to see the person’s vital health signs and wouldn’t need to have a conversation with them before sending out the most appropriate medical team.
Disabled people would also benefit. “Most of the current emergency systems have already implemented alternatives to voice calls. However, these are mainly limited to assistance for people with hearing and speech impairments. The solutions used so far, fail to provide access to emergency calls for users with other disabilities for instance,” says Dr Rebahi.
This is especially important when it comes to people who do not communicate verbally or, who due to their physical disability, are not able to use a computer or a mobile phone by hand. It also affects people with visual impairments.
Many people with disabilities also use high-tech Assistive Technology devices or applications to improve their everyday lives. Some of these products can be extended to making emergency calls or sending emergency messages. For these reasons, the project developed the EMYNOS API for Assistive Technology.
Each of these groups of people needs individual customised solutions to overcome their disabilities. As Dr Rebahi says, “Harnessing the power of existing internet-based communication platforms to help emergency responders and citizens is a logical step that has just been furthered by EMYNOS’s work.”